OPINION: A dish served cold

“When you see Sotomayor and Kagan, tell them that Lindsey said hello.” That was South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham to then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh back in 2018 as he wrapped up an epic rant as chair of the Judiciary Committee excoriating Democrats for their disgusting smear campaign intended to derail Kavanaugh’s ascent from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The unforgivable attacks on Kavanaugh were the culmination of more than 30 years of Democrats shredding the judicial appointment process beginning with the assault on Robert Bork in 1987 so notorious that “Borking” became a verb when it was turned against Clarence Thomas just four years later. Thomas, vilified by the left to this day in the worst racial terms, called it a “high tech lynching” to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee back then who just happened to be current Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden. Once they found themselves in the Senate minority under President George W. Bush in 2001, Democrats broke new ground on upending Senate traditions by filibustering D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Miguel Estrada. No appellate court nominee had ever been successfully filibustered before and Estrada eventually withdrew his name after years of failed cloture votes that drew as many as 55 votes, five shy of the 60 needed. Leaked memos revealed that one of the reasons certain Democrat groups opposed Estrada was to prevent a conservative from being the first Hispanic to make the Supreme Court. Minority Democrats would go on to filibuster nine more Bush nominees, leading to the first talk of employing the “nuclear option” to eliminate the tactic in favor of a simple majority vote. That was averted with the “Gang of 14” deal, but because the Democrats had successfully blocked so many Bush nominees to the D.C. court, President Barack Obama took the step in 2013 of nominating three judges at once to what by all measures was the least-worked panel in the country and while other courts had what were classified as “emergency” vacancies to which he hadn’t nominated anyone. The Republicans’ attempts to block Obama’s power move using the same tactics pioneered by the Democrats led then-Senate President Harry Reid to nuke the filibuster for all judicial nominees below the Supreme Court level in a vote that then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted the Democrats would regret “a lot sooner than you think.” There can be no question that Democrats regret it now, whether they will admit it or not. Republicans took over the Senate in 2014 and were therefore able to thwart Obama’s pick to flip the court with Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia in 2016. McConnell kept his promise to make the Democrats rue their 2013 actions after Donald Trump won the presidential election by eliminating the filibuster to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Democrats protested, but replacing Scalia with Gorsuch did not change the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court. That was not the case with Kavanaugh when he was tapped to replace the long-tenured “swing vote” Anthony Kennedy and what followed was the most shameless attempt at character assassination in the history of judicial nominees even when compared against what was done to Thomas. It worked on Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who cited Kavanaugh’s temperament in voting “present” after his righteous display of anger at being labeled a gang rapist by Murkowski’s Democrat colleagues. Murkowski has unsurprisingly come out against the idea of replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the November election, but that doesn’t mean she has committed to actually voting against the eventual nominee. Although she may appear bulletproof after winning as a write-in candidate in 2010 and cruising in 2016, even the proudly independent Murkowski may have to consider the fallout from siding against two consecutive conservative nominees to the Supreme Court. The Democrats retook the House in 2018, but saw their numbers in the Senate shrink after the self-destructive Kavanaugh display as they marched red state Democrats off the cliff in North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri and Florida. They made the Supreme Court a focus of the midterm campaign, and American voters responded by preventing them from taking over the Senate and denying them the power to stop Trump from replacing RBG in 2020. The Democrats’ willingness to spare no tactic in their quest for power has stiffened the spines of even once squishy Republicans like Graham and now Sen. Mitt Romney to respond in kind and yet within the confines of the powers defined in the Constitution. Contrast that with the summer we’ve just seen of Democrat voters — egged on, excused and enabled by their elected leaders — destroying American cities and causing losses totaling billions of dollars in human and economic costs. “Boy, y’all want power,” Graham told Democrats in 2018. “God, I hope you never get it.” From Bork to Kavanaugh and from Portland to New York, and from threats to add Supreme Court justices, add states and kill the legislative filibuster, the Democrats have shown and told us everything we need to know about how they wield power, and why we should hope they have no more. So to Trump’s eventual nominee: Say hello to Kavanaugh for me. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Tariff relief payment applications now open through Dec. 14

Alaska fishermen can increase their federal trade relief funds by adding higher poundage prices for 15 fish and shellfish species. While it’s welcomed, the payouts are a band-aid on a bigger and ongoing problem. Through Dec. 14, fishermen can apply to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Seafood Trade Relief Program (STRP) if their bottom line has been hurt by the Trump Administration’s ongoing trade standoffs, primarily with China. “STRP is part of a federal relief strategy to support fishermen and other producers while the administration continues to work on free, fair and reciprocal trade deals to open more markets to help American producers compete globally,” said a USDA fact sheet. The damages to fishermen are calculated as the difference with a trade tariff and the baseline without it based on 2019 catches. For cod, for example, that adds up to an extra 14 cents per pound. So, a fisherman who had cod landings last year of 375,000 pounds would multiply that by 0.14 for a trade relief payment of $52,500. Salmon fishermen can add 16 cents per pound across the board. For Alaska crabbers, 47 cents per pound can be added to 2019 catches for Dungeness, king crab, snow crab and Tanners. Geoduck divers can add 76 cents to their total poundage. It’s 10 cents for sablefish, Atka mackerel and Pacific Ocean perch, 15 cents for flounders, sole and turbot, 4 cents for herring, and an extra one penny per pound for Alaska pollock. Eligible fisherman can fill out a “2020 Seafood Trade Relief Program (STRP) Application,” found at www.farmers.gov and at USDA Farm Service Agencies. In Alaska there are three locations at Homer, Kenai and the statewide office in Palmer. Fishermen who have applied reported it was a fairly easy process and took about an hour to complete, according to a statement by the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. While the money is a welcomed inclusion for U.S. fishermen, the relief payments do little to advance the administration’s “free, fair and reciprocal trade deals.” Since 2018, for example, the U.S. has paid a 38 percent tax on average for seafood products going to China, previously Alaska’s biggest buyer. According to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Alaska seafood products were gaining market share prior to the tariffs, with exports to China reaching their highest level in 2017 at $988 million. From 2017 to 2018 the value of Alaska seafood exports to China dropped by $204 million, the largest year-on-year drop on record. By 2019, Alaska seafood exports to China were at their lowest level since 2010, while China saw a 91 percent increase in global seafood imports during the same time period. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to purchase increasing amounts of seafood from Russia while that country has not reciprocated since 2014 as retaliation against the U.S. and other countries for objecting to its invasion of Ukraine. Federal trade data show that through July of this year, the U.S. has purchased more than 46.3 million pounds of seafood from Russia valued at nearly $440 million, almost duty free. That’s an increase of 42.6 million pounds valued at nearly $382 million during the same time in 2019. Most of the Russian products are red king crab, snow crab, cod and sockeye salmon which are lower priced and compete directly with Alaska seafood on supermarket shelves. Another unfair deal that needs fixing is the Russian-caught/Chinese processed partnership that is growing fast. Last year, it totaled 2 million pounds in the U.S. at a cost of nearly $7 million, said economist Garrett Evridge at the McDowell Group. Most of the halibut comes in through Vancouver, British Columbia to sidestep the tariff between the U.S. and China. “It’s an amount of volume that is trending higher, and for a relatively low volume fishery and markets like the halibut market in the US, 2 million pounds is pretty material,” Evridge said. “So that’s another thing that we struggle with as we look at Alaska produced Pacific halibut. It’s just another factor that is making that competition pretty difficult.” Fish board backup The COVID-19 virus has forced the delay of fisheries meetings planned for this winter in Cordova and Ketchikan until sometime next spring. Six of the seven Board of Fisheries members voted for the delay during a special teleconference on Sept. 16 and agreed to set a schedule at a mid-October work session. New appointee McKenzie Mitchell of Fairbanks was missing from the teleconference. The BOF regulates the management of Alaska’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries in waters out to three miles and focuses on specific regions in three-year cycles. The heavily attended meetings, which can last a few days or weeks, were scheduled in December for Prince William Sound fisheries and January at Ketchikan for the Southeast region. Meetings on hatcheries and statewide shellfish also were scheduled in February and March. A BOF survey this summer drew 234 responses and showed that only about 20 percent favored in-person meetings; many opted for a delay, and a majority suggested trying to do at least some of the meetings virtually. At the Oct. 15-16 online work session the board will discuss holding the PWS and Southeast meetings in March, April or May of 2021, depending on the status of the pandemic, and whether or not to consider some management proposals out of cycle. Also on the agenda is the status of board nominees who have not been confirmed. Chew on this! Jerky made from Alaska pollock attracted the attention of big backers beginning at a buffet table at Fish 2.0, an annual global gathering of innovators and investors hosted by Stanford University to grow the sustainable seafood sector. “It was literally the first major set of about 200 samples that we’d ever made of the product. And the samples disappeared in a matter of minutes. It was a pretty amazing moment,” said Nick Mendoza, co-founder and CEO of Neptune, a former marine scientist turned jerky maker near Seattle. “There were oysters on the half shell and platters of cheese and all this delicious food and the jerky was gone before anything else was really touched. That was kind of the beginning of everything and put some wind in our sails to keep going forward.” The small company started out in 2018 with west coast rockfish and has since spawned a partnership with American Seafoods Company and industry trade powerhouse, Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, or GAPP. “What really sold us on the story of wild Alaska Pollock is what an amazing, regenerative and abundant food source it is that operates sustainably at a large scale,” Mendoza said. “American Seafoods and GAPP teams brought the data to the table in approaching us about it and I was definitely on board, both because it’s a delicious, high quality product and it’s also a great story that I think resonates with people.” “The most important element in any product launch is to meet consumers where they are,” said Craig Morris, CEO for GAPP. “Neptune’s wild Alaska pollock jerky does just that in two ways: first, by tapping into the incredibly popular high-protein snacking category and second, by delivering the delicious product using e-commerce, thereby quite literally meeting buyers where they are: online.” Mendoza added that Neptune wants to become the “flagship brand for sustainable seafood snacks.” “I think it’s inspiring, both as a founder in this space, but also as someone who cares about the future of seafood in our oceans,” he said. “Not only is seafood consumption in general on the rise, but this awareness is a sort of renaissance in making sure that it is coming from a good source, and understanding what your purchases are actually supporting when you’re buying fish.” The Neptune jerky comes in four flavors and has great reviews on Amazon. Most say it’s not fishy and the texture is similar to beef products. It’s also available online and at 70 retail outlets. Use the code NEPTUNEJERKY20 for a 20 percent discount. Fish Debate is on! The Kodiak Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce the confirmation of the Alaska US Senator candidate debate between Senator Dan Sullivan and Dr. Al Gross, it said in a Friday release. The fisheries themed debate will occur on Oct. 10 at 5:00 p.m. In an atypical manner, the debate will take place over Zoom and be live streamed to www.KodiakChamber.com, www.ComFishAK.com, and both the Kodiak Chamber and ComFish Alaska Facebook and YouTube channels, as well as statewide public radio stations. The moderator will be Rhonda McBride. Send topics or questions to [email protected] ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Public seeks link between oil taxes and state services

The debate is over changing oil taxes, but much of the public seemingly wants to know how it will affect many of the services provided by state government . Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer moderated two-hour teleconferenced public hearings Sept. 21 and 22 examining Ballot Measure 1, the initiative to substantially raise taxes on the largest North Slope fields, in which leaders of sponsor group Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share and the business-centric opposition group OneAlaska Vote No on 1 fielded questions from the public about the potential pros and cons of the tax change. Callers from Southeast Alaska largely indicated in the first hearing they will be voting for the initiative and asked about how it could help restore budget cuts to things like the state ferry system, the University of Alaska and the Permanent Fund dividend. The hearings, required for any proposed law change, were intended to spur an “education and informative discussion” Meyer said, and the open question-and-answer forum quickly turned into a lively, if somewhat repetitive, debate. Chair of the Fair Share campaign and longtime Alaska oil and gas attorney Robin Brena stressed that a collapse in oil production tax revenue is the root of the state’s ever-worsening fiscal problems. The ballot measure sponsors estimate the tax change, which would raise both the gross floor and net profits tax rates on the large, mature North Slope fields of Prudhoe Bay, Alpine and Kuparuk, would generate about $1.1 billion per year in additional revenue over the long-term. The Fair Share campaign insists the current tax system, commonly referred to by its legislative name Senate Bill 21, cost the state more than $3 billion per year since it became law in 2014 and as a result Alaska receives about half of the overall oil revenue that other states collect. The drop in oil tax revenue has pushed lawmakers to start applying more than half of the money traditionally used for Permanent Fund dividends to pay for other services, which are still being cut as the state’s deficit continues to grow, according to Brena. He argued legislators heavily influenced by the oil industry have repeatedly blocked attempts to change the law in the Legislature. “There’s nothing you can do that’s better for Alaska than vote for Ballot Measure 1,” Brena said Sept. 21. “Our (oil) taxes are less than 10 percent of what they were before Senate Bill 21.” While the drop in the state’s oil production tax revenue is undeniable — overall petroleum revenue went from $4.7 billion in fiscal year 2014 to $1.3 billion in 2016 — opponents note the steep drop in oil revenue directly coincides with a major fall in oil prices. Oil went from averaging nearly $100 per barrel for several years to bottoming out at less than $30 per barrel in early 2016 as markets adjusted to the influx of Lower 48 shale production, ConocoPhillips Alaska Vice President Scott Jepsen said. Jepsen and former state Division of Oil and Gas director Chantal Walsh emphasized that at current oil prices in the $40 per barrel range the initiative would raise just $250 million, which doesn’t come close to closing the projected $2 billion budget deficit but will deter companies from investing in more oil production in years to come. “If we keep production up, we keep royalties up; that’s also tied to your PFD,” Walsh said, noting that oil royalty deposits largely form the principal of the Permanent Fund. Brena said the issue ultimately boils down to whether or not the state will call the industries’ bluff: the potential to curtail investment on the North Slope, which would increase the rate of production decline and hurt the state’s finances even worse over the long-term. Fair Share advocates believe Alaska will remain a viable oil basin with the additional taxes and if the initiative is not a viable solution, Brena suggested its opponents haven’t offered a better one. “Their solution is that we should tax ourselves to pay for the subsidies we’re paying Texas oil companies,” he said. Petroleum geologist and former Department of Natural Resources commissioner Mark Myers said the state’s poor fiscal outlook does far more to damage the economy than raising oil taxes would and the primary factors that determine companies’ decisions are “good rocks, technology and oil price.” Jepsen argued Ballot Measure 1 would “take the profitability out of doing business in Alaska.” “If this ballot measure passes, I can tell you we will not follow through with the plans we had a year ago,” he said. Other ConocoPhillips Alaska representatives have said the company will not finalize its winter drilling plans until after the Nov. 3 election. The company is scheduled to complete its final winter of work developing its mid-sized Greater Mooses Tooth-2 oil project and has applied for permits to develop its large Willow prospect, which the company estimates could produce up to 160,000 barrels per day and cost $6 billion to fully develop. Additional public hearings were scheduled for Sept. 23-24. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaskans should be honest with each other

As Alaskans, let’s be honest with each other this election cycle. Under current law, we face a state budget deficit of about $2.3 billion this next fiscal year — the one legislators we elect this November will face when they head to Juneau next January. That’s roughly half of projected spending. Let that sink in. Under current law, next year we are projected to receive only half the revenue we need to cover projected spending. That’s not a temporary situation. According to the Department of Revenue’s Spring 2020 Forecast, it doesn’t get any better the remainder of the decade. And we are facing it without savings. After continuously siphoning from various savings accounts to maintain spending this past decade, the remaining available to the 2021 legislature won’t cover even one-quarter of next year’s deficit. Some suggest we can balance the budget entirely with spending cuts. But again, let’s be honest with each other. Due to the intervening drop in oil prices, even immediately enacting the $600 million in spending cuts Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed at the beginning of his term in 2019 would cover less than a third of next year’s deficit. Diverting $400 million in local property taxes to the state — another proposal made by the governor in 2019 — would increase that to about 40 percent. Even after enacting both, the state would still face an annual deficit of around $1.3 billion. The legislature wouldn’t pass the governor’s combined $1 billion proposal in 2019. While additional cuts, changes in formula-driven programs and a tightened spending cap are inevitable, it is not being honest with each other to claim that the next legislature will adopt a cuts-led approach nearly two-and-a-half times that amount. Others suggest we balance the budget largely through PFD cuts. Using that approach, however, would effectively eliminate the PFD, at great cost to both most Alaska families and the Alaska economy. Next year’s PFD is projected at $1.9 billion. The deficit is $2.3 billion. Even entirely eliminating the PFD would not cover the deficit. More importantly, relying largely on PFD cuts would cause substantial harm to the 80 percent of Alaska families falling in the state’s middle &lower income income brackets, who would bear a hugely disproportionate share of the burden as a percent of family income. Those in the top 20 percent income bracket would experience a trivial impact and non-residents, nothing. In 2016, the University of Alaska-Anchorage’s Institute of Social &Economic Research warned relying on such a massively imbalanced approach among Alaska families would have the “largest adverse impact on the economy” of the revenue options it considered. In 2017, another ISER report concluded “a cut in PFDs would be by far the costliest measure for Alaska families.” While the top 20 percent push PFD cuts relentlessly and some PFD restructuring is inevitable, especially in these times Alaskans should avoid the very alternative that hurts Alaska families and the Alaska economy most. So, being honest with each other, the reality is the time has come to adopt some additional revenue approaches that are more equitable and have a lower impact on the overall economy — in short, are more balanced — to help close the gap. One such approach is Ballot Measure 1, the oil tax initiative. At current and projected oil prices, however, that only raises about $250 million annually. While that’s a contribution, it only covers a tenth of the deficit. Additional, more personal, broader based revenue measures will be required. Being honest with each other, it will take a significant contribution from all three pieces: spending cuts (along with a tightened spending cap), PFD restructuring and additional sources of revenue to meet the state’s yawning fiscal challenge. In the Office of Management and Budget’s 2019 10-Year Plan, the Dunleavy Administration appropriately referred to that as the “balanced approach.” Listen closely. Those candidates that are being honest with Alaskans this coming cycle will talk about that approach most. Brad Keithley is Managing Director of Alaskans for Sustainable Budgets, a project focused on increasing awareness of key fiscal challenges facing Alaskans at both the state and federal levels, and developing and offering reasoned approaches in response. For more information, go to AKforSB.com.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 1 proponents are making wild claims. The numbers prove them wrong.

When I served in Alaska’s Legislature, I relied on data and analysis to inform decisions. As most Alaskans know, the numbers have been tough in our state for a few years, and the resulting budget decisions painful as a result. The thing to remember about numbers is even when we don’t want to make hard choices, they persist in guiding us. If we strip away the emotion and anxiety of the moment and focus instead on what the numbers show, Alaskans should vote to reject Ballot Measure 1. Not only do the numbers demonstrate why voting no is in Alaskans’ best financial interest, but they prove how the ballot measure’s supporters are distorting the facts. Let’s examine a few examples, and clarify something. I no longer serve in the Legislature, but work full-time in the non-profit sector. I do not have a dog in this fight other than loving this state and wanting it to succeed. I am speaking up for that reason and that reason alone. No one is paying me to advocate one way or the other. For starters, it is downright false to say that Alaska has received no oil production tax revenue during the last few years. These numbers are plain to see and published by the state’s Department of Revenue. North Slope oil companies have paid state taxes every year since oil was first produced in this state decades ago. For the time period in question, Alaska received over $8.7 billion in taxes, and $13.8 billion in total revenue from oil companies since 2014. Those payments account for approximately 90 percent of Alaska’s tax revenue from business during the time period. Ballot Measure 1’s proponents also claim that during the past five years, tax credits have exceeded revenues. This is an especially gross mischaracterization. To reach this inaccurate number, they are simply subtracting the roughly $2 billion in cash credits paid or owed to companies that wouldn’t even be impacted by this tax. It’s bizarre that Ballot Measure 1’s supporters would mix up these numbers, but perhaps they are doing it intentionally. Either way, it’s inaccurate. Ballot Measure 1’s supporters falsely claim the current oil tax structure, Senate Bill 21, has failed. Again, this is proved untrue using real, publicly available numbers. Our current oil tax structure has resulted in more oil production and more revenue for the state than was projected under the old tax structure, even with the massive drop in oil price that began in 2015. In 2013, the state’s Department of Revenue projected that 2019 North Slope oil production would clock in at 425,000 barrels per day, even with oil prices over $100 per barrel. Instead, we saw production levels reach nearly 500,000 barrels per day in 2019. Doing some quick calculations, the state is more than $1.5 billion dollars to the good in total revenue versus riding the 6 percent oil production decline rate down with the old tax structure. Perhaps the most concerning and misleading argument being made by Ballot Measure 1 supporters is the notion that voting yes is some kind of silver bullet that will solve the state’s fiscal crisis. In short, it won’t come anywhere close to filling the gap, and will make the state’s finances even worse. The COVID-19 pandemic and painfully low oil prices caused North Slope producers to shut down almost all drilling on the North Slope, and significantly cut back on planned investments. That alone should put a chill down the spines of Alaskans, but the question now becomes: when does drilling and investment come back? Does it? Oil price and the ballot initiative will both drive those decisions. Even if oil prices recover, passage of Ballot Measure 1 will slow down Alaska’s North Slope recovery, and with it, the recovery of the state economy. I know we remain in a tough spot here in Alaska. We dealt with many of these same issues when I served, and the challenges just keep coming. Alaskans remain anxious about the future, for good reason. In times like this though, we must, as always, rely on the numbers to guide us, even when our hearts may nudge us in a different direction. A brave, unflinching examination of the facts proves Ballot Measure 1 is a bad idea that should be rejected by voters. Our collective recovery depends on it. Jason Grenn is a former state representative from Anchorage.

Boards of Fisheries, Game contemplate challenges of meeting season

In a fall littered with elections and other political fencing matches, two other political bodies are debating whether to meet at all or just punt until next year: the boards of Fisheries and Game. The boards, particularly the Board of Fisheries, host regulatory meetings every winter that bring stakeholders from all over the state together. Those are problem during the coronavirus pandemic, and the boards aren’t quite sure what to do about it. The Board of Fisheries, for one, is hoping that the situation will be better by the middle of next spring, when it’s still tentatively scheduling its meetings for the Prince William Sound, Southeast/Yakutat, and statewide shellfish meetings. While other governmental bodies have transitioned to meeting on Zoom and taking public comment via phone, the Board of Fisheries process doesn’t fit well into that model. For one, the stakeholders are spread all over the state, where internet connectivity isn’t always reliable or fast enough to cope with video meetings. For another, the board depends on public participation. Throughout the meeting, the board members gather comments from the public in attendance. During breaks, the public also regularly works directly with board members off the record on revisions to proposals or new language. These meetings all happen during the winter, indoors, and depending on the meeting, more than a hundred people may be gathered in a relatively small space for hours. Board of Fisheries Executive Director Glenn Haight told the board during a work session on Sept. 16 that when the staff surveyed the public about what to do, the results were mixed, but most people who attended meetings in the past were not in favor of virtual meetings. The board talked about potentially limiting attendance at an in-person meeting instead, but then staff would be faced with how to decide who got to come. On top of all that, many people who responded said they were fairly concerned about catching the COVID-19 virus as well, Haight said. “These are the middle of the winter, people in close proximity, frequent contacts with all of these participants day in, day out,” he said. “You as board members are speaking with almost everyone in the room … it’s this very organic and human interaction. It’s inconceivable, for those of us who have been to a board meeting, to get through a board meeting where no one gets sick.” The board members were divided on personal feelings but voted unanimously to pass a set of recommendations about how to scheduling meetings this winter. For now, they’ll be holding the Oct. 15-16 meeting via videoconference, at which time they’ll decide what to do about the remaining meetings in the 2020-21 meeting cycle, which are scheduled to start with the Prince William Sound meeting in Cordova on Dec. 11-17. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang said the department had considered the risk to the community of Cordova in brining staff, board members, and other attendees to the community in the middle of a pandemic, especially with the limited health care resources in the small community. At the same time, though, he said it would be difficult for the department to push the meetings off entirely until next year. That would mean that the department would have to double up on meetings with those already scheduled for the next cycle, and that may not be possible with the existing budget. The board generally agreed with that assessment and generally didn’t like the idea of virtual meetings to replace full board meetings. Board member Gerard Godfrey said the quality of participation would not be the same. “Ideally, we should move forward in person if it’s possible and practical and feasible, because I think there are going to be too many essential factors lost in a virtual meeting,” he said. The board members passed a recommendation for staff to bring back recommendations for options regarding the later meetings at the October work sessions as well. Public comments were divided, with some urging the board to take up virtual meetings. The Board of Fisheries doesn’t currently have any way to telephonically or remotely participate other than submitting written comments ahead of time; neither does the Board of Game. Multiple commenters pointed out that even in a normal year, traveling to attend and participate in the meetings can be very expensive, and after a summer with a blighted economy, this year might not be possible at all. But, on the other hand, other commenters — including major fishing organizations like the Southeast Alaska Seiners, Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance, and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska — agreed with Haight and Fish and Game staff that a virtual meeting just wouldn’t work. Tina Fairbanks, the executive director of the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, said in a letter that holding the full meetings virtually could exacerbate existing inequities. “Taking the process to an online format is likely to create even greater barriers to participation,” she said. “The individuals and communities likely to already be affected by barriers to participation are also likely to be disproportionately disadvantaged compared to more centrally-located, technologically advanced groups and individuals. Those that are most well versed in the board process and/or more well-connected to decision-makers will have even greater access, likely greater time, and thus greater influence on the process by the simple fact that so many others will be unable to participate in the process.” Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, wrote in a letter to the board that she didn’t support hold the October work session either online or in person, as both have “insurmountable challenges.” She asked the board to postpone all meetings to see how the pandemic develops in the state. The board is scheduled to meet virtually on Oct. 15-16 for a worksession dealing with agenda change requests, non-regulatory proposals, and escapement goal reports from Fish and Game staff. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Bank income reflects PPP loan processing

Being the conduit for large amounts of government aid helped Alaska’s banks largely weather the first months of the pandemic. The largest local banks in the state all grew their net income in the second quarter compared with the start of the year, some substantially. Anchorage-based Northrim Bank increased its net income several fold from $2.3 million to $10.4 million in the second quarter, while Denali State Bank of Fairbanks more than doubled its net profit, going from $552,000 in the first three months of the year to more than $1.4 million in the second quarter, according to figures published by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. First Bank in Southeast nearly doubled its bottom line for the quarter, also netting more than $1.4 million. First National Bank Alaska, the largest in-state bank, saw more modest income growth of 2.9 percent to $14.4 million, in line with recent quarters. Northrim Chief Financial Officer Jed Ballard said the bank tried to take full advantage of the “tremendous opportunity” presented by the Small Business Administration’s popular Paycheck Protection Program, which was administered by financial institutions of all sizes across the country for the SBA. “We really boxed above our weight class in terms of the volume of PPP loans that Northrim did,” Ballard said, noting the bank distributed more than 2,500 PPP loans totaling about $350 million — loans that converted to grants if businesses followed the program guidelines — which accounted for 28 percent of the more than $1.2 billion distributed statewide. Northrim holds about a 12 percent market share among Alaska’s banks, according to Ballard. The bank also attracted new customers by offering PPP loans to everyone, whether they were already Northrim customers or not, according to Ballard. It all added up to several months of weekend work for many bank employees. “It was several years worth of loans in a three-month period,” he said. “All departments of the bank kind of transitioned into the lending department. It was a great team effort all the way around.” Denali State Bank did the most PPP loans in Interior Alaska, its region, which helped drive the bank’s revenue, CEO Steve Lundgren said in an interview. He said the bottom line results for Alaska’s banks could have been greater yet if not for a general move in the industry to increase loan loss allowances, or the amount of money set aside to cover uncollected payments, which eats directly into a banks profitability. “That’s taken a big jump because we just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Lundgren said. Underlying asset growth was also strong during the quarter. Denali State Bank grew its total assets by 22 percent to $376 million, while Northrim and FNBA both grew by 19 percent. Northrim eclipsed the $2 billion mark in the second quarter while FNBA is approaching $4.6 billion in assets. The widespread negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic showed up in some, but not all of the banks’ underlying indicators. FNBA saw the total of its loans one to three months past due go from $5.7 million in the first quarter to $15.5 million in the second, which President Doug Longacre said in a prepared statement was the direct result of government-mandated economic and travel restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. FNBA loan officers were consumed by a backlog of loan modification requests and PPP applications and could not reach out to other customers in need of help before problems making payments arose, according to Longacre. “Now that we’ve moved past the flurry of loan modifications and PPP loan production, our officers are again proactively working with customers to help them mitigate potential loan payment issues. And, I’m pleased to note, our current past due loan volume is greatly improved,” Longacre said. Northrim’s Ballard and Denali’s Lundgren said their banks have not experienced the same challenges FNBA has, at least for now. Both said the situation has not been as bad as they once expected. The amount of past due loans held by Northrim fell 75 percent in the quarter to $861,000, while Denali State Bank saw its total fall 35 percent to $784,000. Total loans in nonaccrual increased 24 percent for FNBA to more than $12.7 million, while the metric generally held steady for Northrim and Denali State bank at about $15 million and $1.7 million, respectively. First Bank saw both its past due and nonaccrual totals drop significantly during the quarter. “Our delinquency and repossessions and foreclosures have just been so much better than we could’ve predicted,” Lundgren said. He anecdotally attributed part of the disparity between the downright bad raw economic indicators of unemployment and job losses and Denali’s strong performance to the belief that people who are still employed are still spending money, much of it within the state given the current risks and challenges of travel. Ballard said historically low interest rates are encouraging home and business owners to refinance mortgages and other loans, which is also a fortuitous way to save money when faced with an uncertain future. “We’ve had really just incredible, incredible production over there at our residential mortgage (department),” he said. Lundgren added that he’s seen a significant spike in home renovation projects in the Interior as well. Ballard additionally surmised that while many businesses in the state continue to struggle — particularly those in the tourism sector — for a multitude of reasons, some business owners who were able to access part of the roughly $3.5 billion of federal aid that came to the state have used that money to buy time to revamp their business. “Companies have restructured their operations to help with cash flow needs. Entrepreneurs are very resourceful,” he said. “You see this around the country. Companies are just doing business in different ways to generate revenue and meet the needs of customers.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Shell files plans to return to the Slope; ConocoPhillips awaits initiative outcome

A supermajor is looking to advance its position on the North Slope and ConocoPhillips says it will likely wait until the results of the oil tax initiative are known before planning next year’s work. Shell Offshore Inc. has applied to form the West Harrison Bay Unit in state waters just offshore from the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska with plans to drill the area in search of oil in the coming years, according to documents submitted to the state Division of Oil and Gas. If the Dutch oil industry giant can secure a partner to share in the costs and risks of remote offshore North Slope exploration, it expects to drill exploration wells in the West Harrison Bay Unit with at least one sidetrack each in 2023 and 2024, Shell’s initial unit plan of exploration states. According the application, Shell has been trying to find a partner to work on the West Harrison Bay leases for at least a year, and the company was making progress towards that end before the coronavirus pandemic hit in late winter. As a result, Shell is asking the state for its exploration plan to be valid for five years, which would allow the company to secure a partner and better analyze the area’s development potential. Shell holds a 100 percent working interest in 18 leases covering more than 78,000 acres in the proposed unit. The wells would target the popular Nanushuk oil formation first pinpointed by the Repsol-Armstrong Energy partnership in the Pikka Unit. The shallow, conventional Nanushuk formation also forms the basis of ConocoPhillips’ large Willow oil prospect to the south of Harrison Bay and is believed by many in the industry to be prolific across much of the western North Slope. A U.S. Shell representative did not respond to questions in time for this story. Shell infamously spent more than $7 billion to drill the Burger J exploration well much further offshore in the Chukchi Sea before abandoning its domestic Arctic drilling program in 2015. The work was beset by legal challenges and protests where vessels and equipment were staged at Pacific Northwest ports, as well as the grounding of the Kulluk drilling rig near Kodiak Island in 2013 while being towed south from Unalaska.. Elsewhere on the Slope, Great Bear Petroleum Ventures and Borealis Alaska LLC have partnered in hopes of forming the Talitha Unit south of Prudhoe Bay along the west side of the Dalton Highway. In the unit application submitted Sept. 4 the small independents committed to drilling two vertical wells, Talitha A and B, over the next two exploration seasons. The Talitha A well, tentatively planned for next winter, would be approximately eight miles west of the Dalton and be drilled about 10,200 feet to the base of the Kuparuk formation, according to the application. London-based Pantheon Resources purchased Anchorage-based Great Bear Petroleum — the project operator — in 2019 along with the roughly 200,000 acres of leases Great Bear held at the time. Great Bear first started working the area in 2012 and drilled several wells targeting unconventional shale plays but largely shifted to a conventional oil focus in 2015 when oil market conditions deteriorated and new prospects appeared in 3-D seismic data, company leaders have said. Pantheon directors have said the logistical advantages of being near the haul road should help the economics of Talitha and other nearby prospects. And while companies such as Shell and Great Bear are preparing for exploration work over the coming years, the state’s largest oil producer and most active recent explorer says it is waiting to firm up its drilling plans. ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman wrote via email that the company had not finalized its exploration or capital plans for next year as of Sept. 15. “Our capital plans will depend on our outlook for prices and the outcome of the ballot measure,” Lowman said in reference to the Fair Share Act, a citizens initiative to raise oil taxes that will be Ballot Measure 1 in the November election. Ballot Measure 1 sponsors stress that the tax increase will not impact project development because it would only apply to the large and more profitable North Slope fields of Alpine, Kuparuk and Prudhoe Bay; ConocoPhillips operates or has a significant stake in all three. The company typically announces its work plans for the coming winter in late summer or early fall. Last winter the company planned to drill seven exploration or appraisal wells at its prospects across the Slope; however, concerns about spreading COVID-19 in remote drilling camps and the concurrent collapse in oil prices caused the company to cut its winter work season short and indefinitely lay down its North Slope rig fleet, part of an effort to cut up to $400 million from its 2020 Alaska spending plan. Far to the south on the edge of Cook Inlet, Hilcorp Alaska is also asking Division of Oil and Gas officials to form the Seaview Unit encompassing the town of Anchor Point on the southern Kenai Peninsula. Hilcorp, the primary natural gas supplier for Southcentral utilities, drilled the 10,000-foot Seaview 8 well in 2018 that led to a gas discovery in the Tyonek formation. The company initiated permitting for a short gas pipeline within the proposed unit earlier this year to tie the Seaview pad into Enstar Natural Gas Co.’s network. According to Hilcorp’s application recently published by the Division of Oil and gas and dated July 31, the company could have production from the Seaview 8 well by Oct. 1 if all of the regulatory requirements can be met in time. A Hilcorp spokesman declined to comment on the status of the project. The company plans to drill another, shallower directional well targeting gas accumulations from the Seaview pad later this fall. BlueCrest Energy produces small amounts of oil from the Cosmopolitan development just offshore from Anchor Point, but Hilcorp’s work indicates Seaview is solely a gas development at this point. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Don’t call them Democrats

The Alaska Democratic Party is calling “bullshit” on winners of the Democratic primary being affiliated with the Democratic Party on the November ballot. Apparently the party’s brand in Alaska is so bad that its leadership doesn’t want its candidates to actually be associated with it. The latest outrageous outrage involves a simple change on the general election ballot that has removed the official party affiliation, or lack thereof, of all candidates and instead shows their name and whether they made the ballot through the Republican or Democratic primary or through the petition process. Republicans aren’t complaining about the change because candidates over the years have often adopted the “R” designation in order to have a better chance to win. That’s why the party’s elected representatives range across the ideological spectrum from Sen. Gary Stevens to Rep. David Eastman while Democrats range from Sen. Bill Wielechowsi to, well, Bill Wielechowski. Democratic Party Executive Director Lindsay Kavanaugh pitched a fit over the change revealed Sept. 14 on the Division of Elections website, calling it “unconscionable.” “I am increasingly concerned about the ability of the Lt. Governor to make informed, unbiased, decisions about the election, and of the integrity of those running the DOE,” Kavanaugh told the Anchorage Daily News. “Alaska voters, especially the majority of those voters who are undeclared and non-partisan, need to call bullshit.” Kavanaugh shouldn’t hold her breath waiting for an uprising from those undeclared voters. Yes, Alaska’s voters are famously averse to aligning with either political party. They are also among the most consistent Republican voters in the country. The state hasn’t chosen a Democrat for president since LBJ in 1964 and has only sent two Democrats to Congress in the last 50 years with both of them named Begich. While many state Democrats are pro-resource development and favor gun rights, the national party is rabidly anti-Alaska and anti-Second Amendment. Alaska voters have long since figured this out and vote for national offices accordingly regardless of how they choose to register their party status. Defeat after defeat for national office has led the state Democrats to adopt a recent strategy of claiming “independent” status and our two congressional races this year reflect that with Al Gross and Alyse Galvin taking on incumbents Sen. Dan Sullivan and Dean of the House Rep. Don Young. Despite clearly favoring the politics of the Democrats and soliciting their financial support, the Democratic Party wants Gross and Galvin to have a “U” or an “N” next to their names in a transparent attempt to convince voters they aren’t filling the oval with a choice that will keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and/or hand over the Senate to Chuck Schumer. The House under Pelosi has already voted to overturn development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, and Democrats are talking about ending the filibuster should they retake the Senate. That means Galvin and Gross would help enact disastrous policies for Alaska no matter how they classify their political status. Republicans, especially in the Senate, routinely break ranks to vote independently (look no further than Sens. Mitt Romney, our own Lisa Murkowski or Rand Paul for examples), but there is no such freedom on the Democrat side where even their most endangered member Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama never dares to cross Schumer. To think that Galvin will vote against Pelosi as the 435th-ranked member of the House or that Gross will take the Democrats’ money and then vote to uphold the filibuster are huge gambles Alaskans will be rightly hesitant to take no matter what letter follows their names. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Can technology make flying feel safe again?

Across the world, the aviation industry is scrambling to find ways to keep the COVID-19 risk out of airplanes with high-tech filtration and advanced cleaning. American Airlines has partnered with medical advisers at Vanderbilt University and its competitors have made similar moves. Every airline is requiring masks. Southwest Airlines has adopted the “Southwest Promise,” which includes limiting capacity on flights to allow passengers to social distance. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to turn the airline industry upside down with no end in sight, suppliers are preparing for the inevitable future where cleanliness and germ-fighting is a high priority for customers. North Texas manufacturer Aereos thinks antimicrobial plastics may be one solution to help cut the risk of spreading COVID-19 on commercial airline flights. And Dallas-based Allied BioScience has gotten government approval to spray a disinfectant coating in planes that’s billed as killing germs for up to a week. With commercial air traffic still at historic lows and passengers continually wary of flying, Aereos says it has brought antimicrobial technology to high-touch surfaces inside commercial jetliners, such as tray tables, armrests, door handles and toilets. The antimicrobial technology can cut down on the growth of germs and virus such as COVID-19, Aereos partner David Baker said. “It’s just starting to catch a lot of interest,” said Baker, whose company recently released the line. “Especially considering that it’s a pandemic, it’s one way of making them feel comfortable. This provides them with a layer of protection.” Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Allied BioScience received emergency approval last month from the Environmental Protection Agency for a spray-on coating product that is intended to protect against COVID-19 and other germs for at least a week. The perception of heightened cleaning and hygiene on commercial aircraft is a “huge deal” to consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Jamie Larounis, a travel consultant and writer for Upgradedpoints.com. “This, in combination with social distancing efforts, is what is building consumer confidence that the airlines are doing their part to provide a safe experience,” Larounis said. It’s unclear how much of the novel coronavirus is spread via surfaces, but airlines are still touting enhanced cleaning procedures along with state-of-the-art air filtering technologies, face masks and social distancing. Companies are experimenting with ultraviolet lighting to help kill COVID-19 and Southwest is testing thermal imaging cameras to detect fevers among passengers. “The primary and most important mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through close contact from person-to-person,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Based on data from lab studies on COVID-19 and what we know about similar respiratory diseases, it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” Aereos, based in Euless, makes replacement interior airplane parts and custom cabin items, such as tray tables, latches, toilet seats and window shades along with carts and other items used by flight attendants. Baker said the company started experimenting with antimicrobial additives on those parts in May and has them ready for sale to airlines looking to replace aircraft parts. Aereos makes the parts at its North Texas manufacturing facility. The company also does work in the aerospace sector in maintenance, overhaul and defense, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created problems for nearly every corner of the airline industry, Baker said. The antimicrobial technology has grown popular over the last decade in hospitals to cut down on infections and in some medical supplies and devices. The plastics don’t completely kill viruses such as COVID-19 on contact but instead work to inhibit the growth of viruses and germs, slowing down the life of contagions. “Current evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials,” according to the CDC’s website. That leaves airlines, airports and even government agencies working to reduce touch points during the air travel experience at security screening points, at gates and on airplanes, evidence at least that there is concern that touching objects can spread viruses. Baker said he doesn’t have any independent research on how effective the plastics are, but tests within the company have been promising. “Very little had to be changed about what we do, and it essentially costs nothing extra,” Baker said. “We don’t expect airlines to go out and replace every single part, but you could start replacing parts as they break or on an airplane one at a time until your whole fleet is done.”

Movers and Shakers for Sept. 20

PND Engineers Inc. in Anchorage announced three hires. Tanner Stephens joined PND’s civil team in Anchorage in March following a year as a project engineer with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Department of Design and Construction. At PND, he has been working on the California Creek Fish Passage and Connecting Anchorage Trails projects. Stephens earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with a minor in mathematics from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2019. Previously a project engineer and design engineer for the Alaska Department of Transportation, Addison Yang’s projects since joining PND have included a Washington Department of Transportation project with Kiewit to replace a culvert under the I-5 highway with a fish passage, while minimizing impact to motorists and the local community. Yang earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2015 and is currently completing his master’s degree remotely. Obadiah “Obi” Dawson, EIT, earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from UAA this past spring. His recent assignments include structural calculations for the Wendell Avenue temporary trestle. Cornerstone announced two hires: Brittany Larson as an accountant and Macki McDonald as a project engineer. Both join the company with years of experience in the Alaskan construction industry. Larson joins the team with more than three years of Alaskan construction accounting as well as an extensive customer service background. She is currently in her final semester at Wayland Baptist University to receive her associate’s degree in accounting and will then pursue her bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance. McDonald brings more than 16 years of project procurement, logistics, and Alaskan construction experience, along with a strong grasp on remote and complex projects. His construction background began at as a laborer for a general contractor in Redmond, Wash., and soon worked for an Anchorage engineering firm until managing his own construction administration business. Julie Schrecengost has been named tax practice leader of KPMG LLP’s Anchorage office, effective Sept. 1. Schrecengost will be responsible for supporting the career development of tax professionals and the strategic direction and growth of KPMG’s Anchorage tax practice. Schrecengost joined KPMG in 2001 and was promoted to tax managing director in 2012. She provides federal and state tax compliance and consulting services to a variety of corporate and partnership organizations and has extensive experience working with Alaska Native corporations and their unique tax matters including natural resources and settlement trusts. She has nearly 20 years of experience serving clients in Alaska with federal and state tax planning and structuring, special consulting projects relating to acquisitions and divestitures, tax provision preparation, and broad tax compliance services. In addition to her client responsibilities, Schrecengost serves as a tax process and technology leader certified under KPMG’s Lean Six Sigma Program, participates in quality and peer reviews, and serves as the leader of KPMG Anchorage’s Mentoring Committee and Network of Women. Michael Baker International announced three hires. Collin Dey, PE SE, joins Michael Baker as an engineering manager, leading the Oil &Gas and Structural departments in Alaska. Dey has more than 30 years of project and engineering experience, previously, serving key leadership roles at BP Alaska. Dey is a licensed civil and structural engineer, expert in design and oversite of industrial infrastructure, pipelines, tanks, commercial buildings, integrity management and arctic engineering. Dey completed his executive engineering and business management from University of Manchester, and a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering from University of Colorado.Steven Orizotti transitions from intern to fulltime civil engineering associate. He has a bachelor’s degree in geological engineering from University of Alaska Fairbanks and will support the Water Resources Team in conducting hydrologic and hydraulic monitoring, hydrologic assessments, water quality monitoring, and surface water modeling. Erin Tracy returns to Michael Baker as a civil engineering associate in the Anchorage Transportation Department. Tracy holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Utah State University. Previously, Tracy supported the Transportation Group for the Michael Baker’s Virginia office, working on roadway infrastructures, traffic count studies, drainage plans, and street improvements.

FISH FACTOR: After surveys canceled by COVID-19, crabbers await catch limits

Bering Sea crabbers will soon know how much they can pull up in their pots for the upcoming season that opens Oct. 15. This week the Crab Plan Team, advisers to state and federal fishery managers who jointly manage the fisheries, will review stock assessments and other science used to set the catches for Bristol Bay red king crab, Tanners and snow crab. Normally, the biggest driver would be data from the annual summer trawl surveys that have tracked the stocks for decades. But this year, the surveys were called off due to the COVID-19 virus and that has crabbers worried. “There are certainly some added uncertainties,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, which represents harvesters. Goen said the fleet is anticipating an opener for red king crab, likely less than the 3.8 million pounds taken last season. “Our preliminary indication is that there is possibly going to be a small red king crab fishery. However, we’ve heard from scientists in the past that there has not been good recruitment into that fishery for over a decade,” Goen said. On the brighter side, the snow crab stock has been on a steady upward tick. “We’ve been seeing a lot of recruitment of young crab into this fishery, so even without a survey I think the outlook is good. It’s hard to say, though, given the lack of a survey whether the TAC (total allowable catch) would end up being about the same as last year, which was 34 million pounds, or if it would go up or down,” she added. Bairdi Tanners, snow crab’s larger cousin, also could be in play after a two-year closure. That fishery produced 2.4 million pounds in 2018, and nearly 20 million pounds prior to that. The volatility of the crab stocks and the missing updates from the canceled surveys has the fleet fearing it will result in extra, unnecessary fishing restrictions. “We’re concerned that without a survey, managers will be adding extra buffers for uncertainty which would further reduce our TAC,” Goen said. “We’re already a heavily buffered fishery because of the variability in our stocks. We don’t even come close to approaching our existing buffers, so we don’t think more need to be added.” The total 2019-20 Bering Sea crab catch was 44.4 million pounds for a value of $199.2 million, according to NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. Goen had high praise for the collaborative research being done by the industry and scientists to improve understanding and management of the crab stocks through the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation. The Crab Plan Team meetings ran from Sept. 14-17. The agenda and documents are on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council website. More crab One of Alaska’s most stable fisheries, golden king crab from the Aleutian Islands, has been underway since August and will produce more than 6 million pounds. In waters closer to home, Dungeness crab fisheries at Southeast and Kodiak are producing some of the best catches in decades. At the Panhandle, a fleet of 192 permit holders hauled up nearly 6 million pounds of Dungies during a summer fishery that ran from June through Aug. 15 and will reopen on October 1. Managers base the seasonal catch on the first week’s performance, which produced a quick 1.4 million pounds, compared to 772,000 in the first week last summer. “We did pretty good right off the bat,” said Adam Messmer, regional shellfish manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Douglas. At an average price to fishermen of $1.67 per pound (down from $3.01 last year), the summer fishery was valued at nearly $10 million at the Southeast docks. The Dungies were big and full, Messmer added, referring to fewer soft-shelled crabs that are in the molting process and can’t be sold. The region’s lousy salmon season could mean more boats will be out on the water when the Dungeness fishery reopens in a few weeks, he added. Messmer advised that with the closure of the ADFG office in Wrangell where many crabbers reside, they need to register at the Petersburg office. “They should get on top of that sooner rather than later because not having that Wrangell office is a new thing we’re dealing with,” Messmer said. And more crab Kodiak crabbers are having their best Dungeness fishery in 30 years, with the catch since May at nearly 2 million pounds taken by 25 vessels and five good weeks of fishing left to go. “And we’re seeing similar good production through the Alaska Peninsula and Sand Point area where they are at 810,000 pounds so far. That’s more than in any recent season,” said Nat Nichols, area shellfish manager for ADFG at Kodiak. The higher catches are due in part to “more horsepower on the grounds” as opposed to a higher abundance of crab, and Nichols added that the current Dungie cohort could be the tail end of a peak. “We’ve got 50 to 60 years of history to look at and Kodiak Dungeness crab are very cyclical. In the past these harvest peaks have lasted three years or so and then we kind of go down until we get another big group of crab coming through,” Nichols explained, adding that there does not appear to be many small Dungeness crab coming up behind the current crop. What is coming up are lots of Tanner crabs. Nichols, fresh off the summer survey vessel, said the largest group of tiny Tanners they have ever seen “is still out there” and the crabs appear to be growing fast. Biologists have been tracking the new pulse of Kodiak Tanners since 2018 and next year’s survey could see a significant portion of them reaching legal size, he said. Only legal-sized male crabs can be retained for sale. Meanwhile, local crabbers might not see the expected slump between the 2013 year class of Tanners they’ve been tapping on and the arrival of the 2018 cohort. “At first glance it looks like we’ve met the minimum threshold of 100,000 pounds in each of three different sections so having a fishery in January is a possibility,” Nichols said. “I would not have predicted that a year ago.” On a related note: Tanner crab is spelled with a capitol T because the species was named after its discoverer, Lieutenant Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross that explored Alaska waters in the late 1800s. Clean up! The third Saturday of September is International Coastal Cleanup Day, started in 1986 by the Ocean Conservancy. Since then, millions of volunteers have collected and categorized over 300 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways worldwide. For the 2019 pickup, more than 940,000 volunteers in 116 countries collected nearly 32.5 million pieces of trash of which a record 4.7 million were food wrappers for candy, chips, etc. They also picked up 4.2 million cigarette butts, 1.8 million plastic bottles, 1.5 million plastic bottle caps, and more than 940,000 straws and drink stirrers. Last year was the first time food wrappers beat cigarette butts as the most collected item. Nick Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program, said over 35 years the cleanup has revealed the switch to single-use plastics and its detrimental impact on ocean pollution. In the early days, Mallos said glass bottles, metal caps, and paper bags were most prevalent in the list of top collected items. By 2017 the entire top 10 list included all plastic items (cigarette butts count as plastic trash because the filters are made of plastic fibers) and it has remained that way ever since. Mallos called the issue of single-use plastics, especially food wrappers, both a design and a recycling problem that highlights the need for different types of packaging and better waste management. “Cleanup efforts are only a band-aid, not a complete solution,” he told Fast Company magazine, which focuses on innovation in technology and “world changing ideas.” “With food wrappers taking over the No. 1 pollution spot, it really underscores the unsustainable production of single-use disposable foods and beverage packaging that’s not recycled or nonrecyclable in most cases, as well as the gross inadequacies to responsibly manage this plastic waste in almost all communities around the world,” Mallos said. “We need to solve this problem upstream so that plastics never enter our waterways and never reach the beaches in the first place.” ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Ballot Measure 1 wins final battle at state Supreme Court

A brief Supreme Court order assured that the oil tax initiative will truly be on November ballots. The court on Aug. 31 affirmed a Superior Court decision in July to dismiss a lawsuit by industry groups against the state Division of Elections. The groups, led by the Resource Development Council for Alaska, attempted to have signatures in support of putting the initiative on the ballot invalidated, which would have kept it off the ballot this fall. They argued the Division of Elections certified petition signatures that were collected by signature gatherers paid in excess of what is allowed by state campaign finance laws. Attorneys for the state and Vote Yes For Alaska’s Fair Share, the sponsors of Ballot Measure 1, responded that the state is required to interpret laws regarding citizens’ initiatives broadly to promote the public process and following to the industry group’s claims would make running an initiative campaign impractical. “Alaskans should be offended that an industry group funded by international oil producers based in Texas would try to take away our rights to engage in free speech, our rights to have our valid signatures counted on the initiative petition, and our rights to vote on Ballot Measure 1,” Vote Yes chair Robin Brena said in a prepared statement. Brena, an oil industry attorney, also argued the case for the citizen group. The Supreme Court order did not contain an opinion on the matter, but stated that one will be drafted. But while Vote Yes or Alaska’s Fair Share won in court, the campaign is losing badly in the race for cash. OneAlaska–Vote No on 1, the industry-backed group formed to oppose the initiative, raised more than $9.8 million through July 7, the most recent reporting period published by the Alaska Public Offices Commission. More than $6 million of that was raised since mid-April. The largest contributions to OneAlaska have come from the large oil producers in the state, with the since-departed BP Exploration Alaska contributing more than $3.6 million to the campaign. Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share, in contrast, had raised $664,330 through the same period, according to APOC records. OneAlaska spent more than $1.8 million on media placements during the April to July reporting period. Vote Yes Campaign Manager David Dunsmore said the group will be running radio spots in rotations until the election. “We don’t have the level of resources that the opposition does, of course,” Dunsmore said. Anchorage Economic Development Corp. CEO Bill Popp, a co-chair of OneAlaska, said part of the reason the group has garnered the support it has is the broad recognition from the state’s business community of the “destructive” impact the initiative’s oil tax increase would have on Alaska’s already beleaguered economy. “We view it as a significant threat to any kind of meaningful economic recovery if (Ballot Measure 1) passes,” Popp said in an interview. He emphasized that while North Slope oil production has declined overall since the most recent oil production tax, known as Senate Bill 21, was enacted in 2014, initiative supporters ignore the reality that Alaska oil developments are years in the making. “These are long lead time projects,” Popp said, adding several large developments are currently in the works by Oil Search and ConocoPhillips. He added that AEDC typically stays out of policy debates as specific as oil taxes, but the issue is too fundamental to the state’s economy to remain neutral. “We just can’t risk such a draconian change in tax policy,” Popp said. Dunsmore said Alaska’s economy would be best served if the state got the roughly $1 billion per year the Fair Share Act is expected to generate over the long-term and its supporters simply have a differing view in that regard to AEDC leaders. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

‘Enough is enough’: Commissioners and execs urge CDC to let cruising resume

MIAMI — Five months after South Florida became a hotbed for COVID-19 cruise outbreaks, Miami-Dade commissioners and cruise executives are urging the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to give the cruise industry the OK to restart sailings as soon as possible. At a Sept. 10 virtual tourism and ports committee meeting, Commissioner Rebeca Sosa scolded the federal health agency charged with the country’s public health response to COVID-19, saying it has been too slow to communicate with the industry and must work quickly to get cruising up and running again. The deadly virus continues to claim thousands of American lives every week. “The problem is it’s not fair that the CDC is not paying attention and communicating with the cruise industry,” Sosa said, citing the time between when cruise companies submitted plans to the agency regarding how to mitigate COVID-19 spread among crew in mid-April and the finalizing of those plans in late July. “We cannot wait another 14 weeks.” The meeting, which included packaged videos promoting the cruise industry and live shots with cruise CEOs, did not touch on safety concerns. Commissioners didn’t ask executives for details about how to avoid the disease spread and complications that left hundreds of passengers at sea for weeks and the Coast Guard overwhelmed by medevac requests. The CDC first banned cruises in the U.S. in mid-March amid COVID-19 outbreaks on several ships. The following six months have been marred by disagreements between the industry and the agency. During the ban on cruising, companies have suffered record financial losses and had to lay off large numbers of staff. Thousands of people who support the industry, including longshoremen, shuttle drivers, industry vendors and travel agents, remain out of work. The CDC has banned cruises in the U.S. until at least Oct. 1; most companies have said they will not resume cruises in the U.S. until at least Oct 31. Sosa and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said cruise ships are no more dangerous than hotels or airplanes. That claim has been refuted by the CDC, which has repeatedly noted the unique challenge in preventing COVID-19 spread at sea. “A cruise is a hotel in the middle of the ocean that the doors and windows open all the time, and we have an incredible amount of wind coming in and out making it a safer place,” said Sosa. Said Del Rio, “It’s unconscionable what’s happened to the cruise industry. We’ve been quiet for too long.” Two cruise companies with U.S. headquarters in Miami started cruises again in Italy this month: Carnival Corp., with its Costa Cruises brand, and MSC Cruises. The cruises are only available for Italian passengers and all passengers and crew are undergoing COVID-19 rapid antigen tests before boarding. Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said he expects the company’s AIDA brand to begin cruises in Germany soon. Del Rio said Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings will be submitting its health protocol proposal, created in conjunction with Royal Caribbean Group, to the CDC within the next 10 days. “We’ve got to get to work,” he said. “Enough is enough. It’s been more than six months. We’ve learned a lot.” At odds with CDC In its most recent no-sail order, the CDC said it spent 38,000 man-hours working to manage the COVID-19 crisis on cruise ships as of July 10. After the CDC first warned the public to avoid cruise travel because of the increased risk of COVID-19 spread on March 8, cruise companies continued to operate. Nervous passengers boarded cruises after the CDC warning because companies were not offering refunds. Companies did not screen disembarking passengers at PortMiami, in some cases after learning about previous passengers who had tested positive. On March 13, the industry announced it was canceling all U.S. cruises. The CDC issued its industry-wide no-sail order the next day. In March and April, several ships still carrying passengers became trapped at sea with nowhere to dock and eventually found refuge in Florida ports where dozens of passengers and crew were evacuated; some died on board before the ships arrived, others died in South Florida hospitals. At least 110 passengers and crew members have died from COVID-19, at least 38 in Florida, according to a Miami Herald investigation, and at least 86 ships have been affected, or approximately one-third of the global cruise fleet. In April, seven cruise companies submitted plans to the CDC detailing how they would protect crew from the virus while the ships were out of service. The CDC said the plans largely failed to meet the agency’s requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and staffed two people to work with each company on redrafting the plans. Norwegian Cruise Line continued to house crew in shared cabins with shared bathrooms until July, according to the agency, and took more than two weeks to sign the required form confirming it has a complete and accurate plan. Most companies needed two revisions to their plans before they were deemed complete; one needed seven, the agency said. In the interim, the CDC said cruise companies would be allowed to repatriate crew members through the U.S. using private transportation if their executives signed an agreement with the agency assuming responsibility for following all health protocols, like requiring traveling crew to wear masks. Royal Caribbean told its crew that the CDC had banned all crew repatriation, delaying sending them home. After the Herald reported the company knew the CDC was allowing for repatriation on private transportation, the company reversed and signed the required agreements. In June, the CDC unveiled a grading system for cruise ships based on their level of infection. Ships with complete plans for preventing COVID-19 spread and no COVID-19 cases within 28 days can repatriate crew using public transportation. The only cruise company to have a complete plan at that time was Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line. Crew continue to contract COVID-19 aboard laid-up ships, according to CDC data obtained by the Miami Herald via a Freedom of Information Act request. At least seven ships in U.S. waters during the month of August reported COVID-19 or COVID-like illnesses to the CDC that month. Carnival Corp. pulled its ships out of U.S. waters before the grading system debuted, in part because it disagreed with the agency’s requirement that asymptomatic crew members remain in their cabins as much as possible. Virgin Voyages pulled its ship out the following week. Disney Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line have now pulled most of their ships out of U.S. waters. Ships outside U.S. waters are no longer required to report illnesses to the CDC. Hundreds of crew members are still stuck on cruise ships without pay, waiting to be repatriated. A spokesperson for Carnival Corp. said it still had 400 crew to repatriate at the start of this week, after sending home 80,000. A spokesperson for MSC Cruises said it still has around 700 waiting to go home, after repatriating more than 17,800. A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean Group said as of July 17 the company still had 2,815 people to repatriate and did not provide an update. Spokespeople for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings did not respond to a request for comment.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 2 replaces fair elections with political trickery

You’ve likely heard the saying that politicians are like diapers: they should be changed often, and for the same reason. All joking aside, if we Alaskans want to change public policy, we have to change the people who control it. Voters of all political stripes understand this simple concept. We Alaskans use a time-honored process for “changing diapers,” and it’s easy to understand: each person gets one vote, and the candidate who earns the most votes wins. But this November, Alaskans will be asked to vote on Ballot Measure 2, which would throw our election system into chaos. First, nearly all the money behind Ballot Measure 2 comes from out-of-state billionaires and special interest groups unknown to most Alaskans. I know from experience that outsiders rarely have Alaskans’ best interests at heart. That’s why I fought the federal government at the US Supreme Court twice when they wrongly tried to assert control over Alaska’s waterways. So naturally, I became worried when I learned that 99 percent of the $1.1 million spent in support of Ballot Measure 2 comes from outside our state. This alone should ring alarm bells in voters’ minds. Perhaps the most sweeping change proposed in Ballot Measure 2 is to toss aside our “one Alaskan, one vote” system and replace it with a scheme known as ranked choice voting. It’s so complicated, it’s hard to explain, but here’s the gist: voters would be forced to rank every candidate on the ballot, regardless if they wanted that particular candidate to win. Fail to do that, and that vote is at risk of being thrown out if no candidate receives over 50 percent of votes cast. In this situation, a computer system (yes, you read that correctly) would calculate the winner using an algorithm that takes many pages to explain to voters. Under this nightmare scenario, the candidate who is declared the “winner” of an election could be someone who received far fewer votes than the first-place candidate, but instead received a significant number of second, third, or even fourth-choice rankings. Confusing? Yes. And that’s the intent. Backers of Ballot Measure 2 claim this will ensure that each election produces a victor who has the support of a “majority” of voters. But they fail to explain how a tortured majority that was Frankensteined together by adding everyone’s third or fourth-place preferences is really what voters want. Bottom line, this new system is unnecessary; our time-tested system of the candidate with the most vote wins works just fine. Former Republican Gov. Sean Parnell and former Democrat Sen. Mark Begich agree on this issue, admitting it’s a mess. They wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial that ranked choice voting “encourages political trickery.” Special interests with political savvy will run wild, free to unleash unsavory candidate and ranking strategies aimed at forcing a computerized runoff and manipulating the final outcome. The political elite will benefit from these rigged elections while average Alaskan voters will lose their voice. The swamp is the only winner in this scenario. Stick with me, as there’s even more to attempt to explain. Another massive change proposed by Ballot Measure 2 is to completely throw out Alaska’s traditional primary elections and impose California’s “jungle primary” system. Candidates from all political parties, as well as nonpartisan candidates, would all appear on the same primary ballot. The top four vote-getters from this process would then advance to the general election. Once again, voters would be disenfranchised, because this process eliminates their right to select a political party nominee for the general election. In areas that are dominated by a single political party, multiple candidates from the same party would appear on the ballot, while smaller minority parties could lose their ability to advance a candidate to the general election. This could leave many voters with no desired candidate on the ballot. While I can’t speak to the motives of the New York and California billionaires funding Ballot Measure 2, I can tell you that the sweeping changes proposed by this initiative would disenfranchise Alaskan voters, invite voter manipulation and political trickery, and further erode trust in our democratic process. It’s our responsibility to step up, speak out, and inform our neighbors about everything they stand to lose if Ballot Measure 2 becomes law. Sure, we may not have a ton of cash from out-of-state billionaires, but we still have something they don’t: the right to cast a vote in Alaska. Together, let’s protect the integrity of our elections and our votes by voting no on Ballot Measure 2. ^ John Sturgeon is chairman of Defend Alaska Elections-Vote No on 2. He previously spent 12 years fighting to reverse federal intrusion on Alaska’s public lands, achieving victory at the U.S. Supreme Court twice.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaska State Parks offers open space to meet COVID challenges

Those looking for a silver lining in the “summer of COVID” might find one in a variation on the old “good news/bad news” story. The bad news is, the tourist industry shutdown has kept most visitors away during our peak outdoor recreation season. The good news is that Alaskans have had the whole place to ourselves! Many Alaskans finding themselves isolated, indoors, or unable to travel this year have found welcome relief in heading outdoors for safe, socially distant recreation in our great outdoors. They’ve been fortunate to discover, or rediscover, the common treasure we have in Alaska State Parks. Alaska State Parks is a division of the Department of Natural Resources also known as the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. As stated by those who created the system 50 years ago, our mission is “to provide outdoor recreation opportunities and conserve and interpret natural, cultural, and historic resources for the use, enjoyment, and welfare of the people.” Our 122 employees manage the nation’s largest state park system, which includes the nation’s biggest single state park (Wood-Tikchik State Park in Southwest Alaska); Denali State Park (which borders and complements the U.S. Park Service’s Denali National Park and Preserve); Chugach State Park (Anchorage’s backyard playground) and many smaller but no less-loved parks in every corner of the state. It encompasses hundreds of miles of trails, scores of campgrounds, boat launches and river boardwalks, and many other elements that make Alaska accessible to all. This system has faced many challenges this year, some originating in COVID-19 and associated impacts, others rooted in ongoing longer-term issues such as earthquakes, flooding, coastal erosion, bark beetle infestation and excessive wildland fires. The division has also responded to the state’s fiscal challenges, by reducing its operating budget by 10 percent and enhancing revenues over the last five years to stabilize our finances. As an agency that directly serves Alaskans, Alaska State Parks works hard to seek out, listen for and respond to suggestions and criticism, and works hard to be transparent about our challenges and how we strive to meet them. The pandemic has disrupted life for many, and Alaska State Parks is no exception. The summer’s combination of more visitors and fewer staff has led some to some people experiencing limited or unavailable space at popular campgrounds, higher traffic on trails, or short-term overflowing of bathroom facilities and dumpsters. Some on editorial pages or social media have recently complained that not every state park unit is in prime condition. A few have even insinuated that we’ve neglected remote spots favored by Alaskans in favor of others oriented toward commercial tourists. We have also heard thanks for quickly reopening some parks after removing beetle-killed tree hazards, and for opening others we feared might have to stay closed all summer. When it comes to campground operations, we’ve faced national travel restrictions that kept away the visiting campground hosts and temporary workers who typically help us manage and monitor our parks each summer. We have responded by prioritizing the most popular sites, imposing temporary closures on others, and enlisting much-appreciated help from willing volunteers. While it may have been easy in the past to blame “those darn Outsiders,” this summer has shown that sometimes those abusing or trashing our parks are Alaskans themselves. We invite all who love our parks to help maintain them, either by joining organized volunteer maintenance and cleanup crews, or just carrying trash bags and picking up trash — including pet waste — while hiking or camping. When it comes to maintaining park facilities, Alaska State Parks has for years tracked what’s become significant backlog of deferred maintenance needs, mostly attributable to aging infrastructure, years of constrained budgets and ever-increasing use. We’ve responded by prioritizing the most significant public health and safety issues, e.g. clean toilets, safe water and critical maintenance. We’ve also been creative in soliciting federal agencies, philanthropic organizations and volunteers for the money, resources and manpower necessary to provide park services at the highest level possible. Park management has also reached out to both established and emerging user groups, to help us integrate their thoughts and concerns into our short- and long-term management plans through full public processes. And we have been brainstorming to seek innovative ways to help all Alaskans who benefit from parks, whether directly and indirectly, share the responsibility for supporting them. Ask any Alaskan why they’re here, and one of their top reasons is probably the chance to live and play in our beautiful, clean natural environment. We at Alaska State Parks share this love for outdoor recreation; many of us have made it our life’s work. Our team will continue to work with the resources available to meet COVID-19 and all other challenges, and manage our parks for the use, enjoyment and welfare of all Alaskans. Ricky Gease is Director of Alaska State Parks.

Mandated ANWR lease sale challenged by politics

The window for the Trump administration to hold an effective lease sale for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain could be closing, but the potential for an administration change in January alone can’t change the requirement for one. That’s because executing a coastal plain oil and gas lease sale in strict accordance with the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 means doing so “in a manner similar” to the way lease sales are handled for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on the western North Slope, as directed by Congress in the law. NPR-A lease sales held typically in early December are preceded by a call for nominations, in which the Bureau of Land Management attempts to gauge industry’s interest in leasing acreage in the reserve at a given time. The 30-day call often starts in early August so bureau officials have time to review the comments, determine what will be offered and get the administrative wheels turning ahead of the late-fall sale. Interior officials repeatedly said during the two-year environmental impact statement process that a sale would be held in 2019, but that date has subsequently been pushed back. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the first sale would be held by December 2021 when he signed the record of decision for the environmental review of the sale Aug. 17. A second would come by the end of 2024. However, for the sale to generate legitimate interest companies likely need to have some prospect of political stability given the constant tug-of-war between the parties over what to do with the coastal plain, according to industry analysts and Interior officials involved in the work. An Interior Department spokeswoman did not respond to questions in time for this story. Holding a sale without a call for nominations is an option to get it done ahead of the Nov. 3 election, but that could open the department up to additional legal challenges given the directive from Congress for the process to mirror that from the NPR-A. A sale held shortly after a Nov. 3 win by President Trump would be the best scenario for Republicans and industry advocates, as it would keep them in control of the development process for at least another four years. And while it’s generally believed that a sale held after a Joe Biden victory — either pre- or post-inauguration — would be of little value given Democrats’ vow to reverse or effectively nullify the tax rider, it would not be the end of the story, either. Democrats also need to maintain control in the House and as well as take over the Senate to truly overturn the legislation authorizing the coastal plain leasing program, which was inserted in the tax bill so it could be passed with a simple majority vote and avoid the traditional 60-vote threshold in the Senate for non-budget legislation. Otherwise, if the Biden administration were to attempt to stall the congressionally mandated lease sale program — the tax bill calls for two sales of at least 400,000 acres each by 2027 — with a Republican-controlled Senate, the fight over development of the coastal plain would likely move to confirmation hearings and votes over administration appointments. Alaska Oil and Gas Association CEO Kara Moriarty said she has absolutely no idea what the industry’s interest will be in the coastal plain if or when a sale is held given all of the political and economic factors at play. While some companies may be limited by the amount of capital they have to immediately invest in obtaining leases with currently depressed energy markets, companies will not be making the decision of whether or not to bid in an ANWR sale based on current markets, Moriarty emphasized, as oil production from the area is at least a decade away. She also noted that a lease does not come with a license to drill and additional permitting would be required for any on-the-ground activity. “There is absolutely no harm in offering a lease sale,” Moriarty said. Many observers believe that while the fight over exploration in the coastal plain garners the national attention, the nearly-completed overhaul of the land-use plan for the NPR-A — aimed at opening more of the western Slope to development — will attract much more interest from industry given the recent large Nanushuk formation oil discoveries made in the area. However, all of the political permutations are largely rendered moot if the BLM’s environmental impact statement for the coastal plain leasing program can’t hold up in court, and it’s getting plenty of scrutiny. The Gwich’in Steering Committee, a group of leaders from Interior Alaska Native villages, and a coalition of conservation groups sued Bernhardt and Interior agencies Aug. 24 in part for failing to consider the cumulative impacts of development in the environmental review of the lease sale. The Tribal governments of the communities of Arctic Village and Venetie also sued Interior Sept. 9, alleging agency officials ignored the impact that disruption of the Porcupine caribou heard, which calves on portions of the coastal plain, could have on residents of the villages that are outside of the immediate development area. The attorneys general of 15 states took their shot at Interior as well Sept. 8, filing a joint lawsuit to stop the leasing program. The states — from across the country — contend the Trump administration did not analyze a sufficient range of leasing alternatives in its review and, among other things, did not consider the contribution the oil produced from the coastal plain could have on the climate. The Justice Department has not yet responded to the complaints. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Redesigned BuyAlaska program seeks to bolster state economy

In February this year, Katie Ashbaugh excitedly accepted the position of sustainability coordinator at Allen Marine Tours, a Southeast Alaska day-cruise operator. She was looking forward to helping the company mitigate its environmental impact. “This was the beginning of my dream career,” says Ashbaugh. She recently earned an MBA that focused on balancing profitability and sustainability, and was eager to get started. “Simple changes — like making sure that cups and containers are compostable, sharing information about the cycle of trash, and helping passengers connect that to how we can be good stewards of our environment — make a big difference,” she said.  She worked for Allen Marine Tours for six weeks, and then the pandemic hit.  Like many Alaskans, Ashbaugh was furloughed in March and eventually laid off at the end of April. She remembers walking through downtown Juneau in the spring and noting the uncommon quiet. Usually teeming with visitors from all over the world, the streets were mostly empty and shops were closed. Once businesses started re-opening, the difference between locally-owned and non-locally-owned businesses was starkly apparent. “Local businesses quickly got creative about finding safe ways for people to come in and shop,” says Ashbaugh. “But we have a section of downtown called the ‘tourist trap’ that’s mostly owned by cruise ships; all of those shops are shuttered. They didn’t reopen, they aren’t thinking about reopening, and it’s really unfortunate to see this part of town underutilized… imagine if the shops there were local instead?” Katie Ashbaugh browses the inventory at Kindred Post in Juneau. Ashbaugh joined BuyAlaska after being furloughed from her new job with Allen Marine Tours amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo/Courtesy) Ashbaugh’s sustainable business experience, combined with her desire to champion local business, made her the top candidate for the Alaska Small Business Development Center’s BuyAlaska staff position at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Originally launched in the early 2000s to help businesses get online at a time when developing a website was prohibitively expensive for many owners, BuyAlaska has been mostly dormant in recent years. With the onset of COVID-19 and the upswell of support for small businesses across the state, the initiative was ripe for a refresh.  “People want to help each other out right now, and buying Alaska products or services is a good way to do so,” says Ashbaugh. “Once you purchase a locally-made product or choose a local service, it’s all part of a compounding cycle. You’re keeping money in your community, supporting jobs, benefiting the environment, and fostering a community culture.”  Nationally, studies show that locally-owned stores generate nearly four times as much economic benefit to surrounding areas than non-locally-owned stores, and local retailers return an average of 52 percent of their revenue to the local economy. Additionally, dining at a local restaurant produces more than twice the local economic impact of a chain restaurant.  Locally-owned businesses make an outsized impact on the economy because they tend to purchase more goods and services from local suppliers, increase the local tax base, and are more likely to donate to local charitable causes. BuyAlaska relies on a group of stakeholders from across the state representing numerous industries, using their expertise to advance the initiative. One of those stakeholders is Heather Rhodes, a marketing manager at Alaska Communications. Early on during the pandemic, Rhodes wanted to host a virtual breakfast for her team to help them feel connected while working remotely. She called a dozen different restaurants until she found one that was open. “It was heartbreaking,” she said. “Some of the restaurants were longtime favorites, and a couple of them still haven’t re-opened. I want to help keep businesses from closing, get them online, and show them how to access new customers so that they can start to thrive again.” The recently-launched BuyAlaska website encourages Alaskans to shop local while also helping businesses connect with more customers and each other. It also offers links to business directories, resources for business owners to navigate going digital, and information about accessing COVID-19 support. The site is complemented by an e-newsletter and Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles. Rhodes is using her marketing and business expertise to help reach Alaskans and change the way they make purchasing decisions.  “On one side we’re making it easy for customers to find the local products they are looking for, and on the other we’re amplifying businesses’ marketing efforts and providing them with technical assistance. By supporting both sides we can make a bigger difference, faster.”  Heather Rhodes picks some Alaska Grown produce at Pyra’s Pioneer Peak farm in Palmer. (Photo/Courtesy) In Anchorage, where Rhodes lives, a recent report released by the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. says that 70 percent of businesses saw their revenue decline during the pandemic and 43 percent made employment reductions. She hopes the Buy Alaska initiative will motivate more people to buy local first to help businesses recover. “Instead of just clicking to order supplies, go see if the mom and pop shop down the street has what you’re looking for. Instead of getting your coffee from a national roaster, pick up something from a local roaster; we have so many great options!” she said. “And so many businesses are offering curbside pick-up, or delivery now. They’re making it so easy for us to support them.” Both Rhodes and Ashbaugh are putting their money where their mouths are; in Rhodes' case, literally. “My family and I are frequent fliers at Middle Way Cafe for cupcakes,” says Rhodes. “And then we rotate our coffee bean purchases between Kaladi Brothers, Steam Dot, and Black Cup.” Ashbaugh recently took advantage of a travel package for Alaskans, and visited Denali National Park for the first time. “We originally planned on camping, but there were such great discounts we were able to stay at some really nice places in the area.” She can’t stop buying local jewelry, and loves to support artists. “We’re voting with our pocketbooks,” says Rhodes. “And we want to see other Alaskans follow suit, and shop local first!” Gretchen Fauske is a marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. She is the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, Board President for Launch Alaska, Vice Chair for Anchorage Downtown Partnership, and a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach.

USDA announces tariff relief for seafood harvesters

Harvesters in more than a dozen commercial fisheries across Alaska that have been hit in the pocketbook by foreign tariffs on American seafood are eligible for part of $530 million in federal aid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA announced Sept. 9 that the money is meant to offset weaker market conditions for American seafood brought on by import tariffs. A statement announcing the availability of the funds, which will be dispersed through the USDA’s new Seafood Trade Relief Program, says generally that the aid is meant to help commercial fishermen “impacted by retaliatory tariffs from foreign governments,” but it is understood to be a direct response to tariffs from China. “Many nations have not played by the rules for a long time, and President Trump is the first president to stand up to them and send a clear message that the United States will no longer tolerate unfair trade practices. The Seafood Trade Relief Program ensures fishermen ” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a prepared statement. The money will be available to commercial fishermen that participated in fisheries that, by species, suffered more than $5 million in retaliatory trade damages, according to program documents provided by the USDA. The Alaska fisheries include: Atka mackerel Dungeness, king, and Tanner crab Geoduck Herring Pacific cod Pollock Black cod (sablefish) Salmon Sole   The aid is capped at $250,000 per person. Fishermen can apply for the aid from Sept. 14 to Dec. 14 through local USDA Service Centers. Eligible fishermen will receive funds on a per pound basis according to USDA calculations that attempt to determine to what level the price of a given species was impacted by the tariffs. Atka mackerel fishermen, for example, can receive 10 cents per pound, while harvesters of the more valuable geoduck clam can receive 76 cents per pound — the highest payment amount among the qualifying species. The funds will come from the Commodity Credit Corp. that is administered by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. China has placed tariffs of varying levels — some up to 40 percent — on American seafood imports following import tariffs levied on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods, starting in 2018. With an annual value of roughly $2.5 billion, seafood is far and away Alaska’s top export and accounts for about half of the value of all the products and commodities shipped out of the state, according to figures from the Alaska Office of International Trade. Additionally, China is the state’s largest trading partner. The country has purchased about $1.2 billion worth of Alaska goods — about one-quarter of all the state’s exports — in recent years. Many in the state’s fishing industry initially feared the Trump administration’s tariffs on seafood imported from China would doubly hit Alaska-harvested fish and shellfish, as much of the state’s catch is sent across the Pacific for processing in China before returning to the U.S. as a finished retail product. However, administration officials exempted domestically sourced seafood products that are eventually imported from China from the tariffs in July 2018 after National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials discussed the issue with those in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach said she got a call “bright and early” Sept. 9 from White House food and agriculture officials about a subsequent briefing that included the president’s advisors for a program that would benefit Alaska’s commercial fishermen. Leach emphasized that Sen. Dan Sullivan was “very instrumental” in getting the aid for fishermen across the country. She noted harvesters of other food commodities — many of the nation’s farmers — previously received federal aid to offset the impacts by China’s tariffs. The Seafood Trade Relief Program simply provides similar help to the country’s seafood harvesters. “Sen. Sullivan just kept pushing and pushing to say, ‘commercial fishermen were impacted by this, too.’” Leach described. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she is pleased the administration has recognized the importance of a healthy seafood industry after more than two years of retaliatory tariffs from China and also thanked Sullivan for his “relentless efforts to educate the administration” on the issue. Sullivan serves on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the subcommittees covering fisheries and trade. He has regularly called out the trade practices of the Chinese government but has also been critical at times of the Trump administration’s often blunt approach to the issue. Staff in Sullivan’s office said that while the aid does not solve the more country’s fundamental trade issues with China, the Chinese government has long violated international trade rules. Sullivan said in a formal statement that he raised the issue of tariff relief for Alaska fishermen in discussions with numerous administration officials, including Trump, Perdue and Vice President Mike Pence. “I am very appreciative that the White House and the Department of Agriculture listened to the fishermen in Alaska and across the country, and are offering substantial, historic financial assistance to these hard-working individuals,” he said. “As I often say, Alaska is the superpower of seafood for our nation, and our fishermen are America’s ultimate small business.” Leach reminded fishermen who apply for the aid that it is not meant for fishermen who had their business impacted by the pandemic; there are other aid programs for that. “This is specific and only for tariff relief,” she said. Alaska’s large commercial halibut fishery was left off the list of eligible fisheries because halibut is mostly sold domestically, particularly to restaurants, according to Leach. However, she questioned why the sea cucumber fishery was left off as well. “Sea cucumber divers were one of the first (groups) impacted by Chinese tariffs and lost a lot of money,” Leach said. The money is only available to harvesters; processors are not eligible, Leach clarified as well. Still, she encouraged Alaskan fishermen to apply for the aid as quickly as possible, given the $530 million will eventually be spread nationwide. “It’s half-a-billion dollars, however, when you’re looking to help fishermen across the country those dollars start to dwindle very fast,” Leach said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Tax credit chickens come home to roost

KFC could probably hire Tom Cruise as its next celebrity Colonel Sanders with the number of chickens coming home to roost in Alaska. A long-awaited and inexplicably delayed decision from the Alaska Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a bill passed in 2018 to pay off the state’s oil tax credit debt. House Bill 331 would have created a shell company within the Department of Revenue to sell up to $1 billion worth of “subject to appropriation” bonds to settle with the independent oil and gas explorers who took the shaft from $630 million in budget vetoes by former Gov. Bill Walker in 2015 and 2016 amid multi-billion dollar deficits. The fallout of the vetoes was massive. Banks now burned twice by Walker stopped lending into the state’s independent oil and gas sector. Caelus Energy was forced to sell North Slope assets to the major ConocoPhillips. Furie Operating Alaska, which had other cash flow problems, declared bankruptcy last year. The state was compelled to modify its loan agreements with Blue Crest in Cook Inlet and Brooks Range Petroleum on the Slope. The Legislature shuttered the tax credit program in 2017 without a plan to clear the books, leaving it up to Walker’s administration to concoct a dubious idea to pay debt with more debt by taking advantage of the interest spread between the cost of the bonds and inducing companies to take haircuts of up to 10 percent on what they were owed in order to get paid faster than waiting on minimum statutory appropriations. A public interest lawsuit by Eric Forrer of Juneau immediately halted the effort, which was initially upheld in Superior Court before being unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court and leaving the state once again on the hook for more than $700 million with no means in sight to pay now that savings accounts have been drained and the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve balance reduced by some $5 billion after transfers to the principal account in the past two years. Walker’s chickens came home to roost in 2018 as he was already headed toward defeat in a three-way race with former Sen. Mark Begich and eventual winner Gov. Mike Dunleavy before the abrupt resignation of running mate Byron Mallott amid a sexual misconduct scandal sealed his fate. For prominent members of the Legislature, the reckoning was delayed but no less decisive after the Aug. 18 primary as Senate President Cathy Giessel and Sen. John Coghill were ousted along with fellow Republican legislators Reps. Jennifer Johnston, Chuck Kopp and Gabrielle LeDoux who chose to form a majority with Democrats after the 2018 election. Candidates who favor paying out a Permanent Fund dividend according to the formula that is still on the books could upend the current majority caucuses after the November general election is settled, but they may well find that math is a stubborn thing and chasing the car is far more fun than sinking their teeth into the tires. Now exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic that has cratered oil prices, North Slope jobs and delayed promising exploration and development projects, the state’s budget situation will resist the ability to pay a full PFD and the economic situation is beyond being rescued by such simplistic promises even if they could be kept. The oil tax credit issue would largely be moot had Walker not vetoed $630 million in credit payments after they were approved by the Legislature, but his 2016 plan — that was endorsed in this space — to use a portion of Permanent Fund earnings and set a fixed dividend amount for the ensuing three years would have put us on a much better footing than we find ourselves today. For that the blame lies with the Republican-led House Majority that chose instead to drain more than $4 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve after the Senate had approved the bill by a decisive vote. Four years later, some of the prospective new Republican legislators heading to Juneau have the same attitude of those who rejected a sensible path toward fiscal stability but this time they don’t have billions in savings to spend as an alternative and they are still stuck with the tax credit bill that Walker left the state through his vetoes. They’ll be lucky if the toughest choice they have is grilled or fried, but a debate resembling whether the egg came first is more likely. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

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